Well is it? I suppose given the current visitation numbers by people from all over the globe with cameras in hand, it is certainly very popular. But because it is popular, can we consider Iceland in all its glory to be 'done', or even worse cliched!
If you visit any photography forum, Facebook page or open the covers of any of the many photography magazines on the shelves, you will without too much effort see photographs of many of the attractions that Iceland has to offer. It may be the basaltic columns rising out of the Atlantic at Reynisdranger beach near Vik or the geysers jetting out their waters at the aptly named village of 'Geysir'. For those that have ventured to more northerly regions of the island, their image of Kirkjufell made have made the pages or even the fascinating geological formations at Hvitserkur. All of the above are good but everybody who calls themselves a photographer can go to Iceland without visiting and photographing Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss which are very conveniently placed just up the road from each other. Also if we are making check lists here, you quite simply have too go to Jokulsarlon to photograph the icebergs in the world famous glacial lagoon and of course spend an afternoon capturing the little icebergs which the Atlantic conveniently places on the pristine black beaches located close to the car park.
Of course I am being rather sarcastic about the whole thing and making it all out to be formulaic and somewhat passe! So why are we beginning to hear Iceland referred to in this way? Can we consider all of this vast landscape covered photographically and all that is left for those intending to travel there is to head out in the hope that what they will get is their own copy of someone else's image, which will be second best? I recall over twenty years ago being shown the Kintyre Peninsula on the south west coast of Scotland on a map. I was a young photographer and what the map showed me in its contours and colours bared no similarity to other regions of Scotland with their dark lochs nestled in deep glens surrounded by steep sided mountains. After deliberation I headed out there and explored the area. Something happened to me as a photographer in that week. I did not have the back catalogue of sample images in my mind to work from and I was set down in a landscape I knew very little about. Because there was no reference, I was able to work freely and uninhibited without a benchmark to work from, or even worse, achieve. That was my first visit and I returned there once a year for the next twenty years and found something different every single time, even after I became very familiar with many of the locations.
Iceland has been big news over the past decade and what we are fed through the pages of the magazines are the so-called 'impact' images. The ones that sell magazines and the photographs that have the 'wow' factor, but heaven forbid this is all Iceland is about. I have now been to Iceland several times running Aspect2i workshops, and although the iconic locations are certainly on the agenda, there are other locations that I feel will inspire enthusiastic photographers, which they often do. In much the same way that every year I visit my favourite area of the Scottish mainland, Wester Ross, and the place never fails to astound and simulate me and workshop clients when we visit. The very suggestion that an area is 'done' for me is rather scary. It paints a picture that all, and every eventuality of making photographs in that place are exhausted and further attribution of effort and time will yield nothing that has not already been done before. At this juncture I must quote one particular master that summed up this specific consideration, Michael Kenna who said, 'Nothing is ever the same twice because everything is always gone forever'.
I feel that the photographic potential in Iceland is infinite and what has been found and published represents a thin veil of what is beneath. We must not forget that it is the mind of the photographer that makes photographic compositions, and we should not be reliant on locations alone to do this for us. This very fact was delivered to me with such clarity last year when I visited one of the moss covered lava fields on the Snaefellsnes peninsula of Iceland with fellow landscape photographer, Michael Pilkington. This is an area that is by no way as popular as some of the others I have mentioned above, but is fascinating and challenging to photograph at the same time. It takes time to make sense of the place and you have to work hard to make a photograph that in some way can do it justice. That evening, back at base, Michael showed me the photograph he made which I would rank as one of the best images I have ever seen taken in Iceland and it was made no where near a waterfall, black beach or iceberg.
What we see on line and in books and magazines are without doubt impressive photographs of a beautiful country. Of course, when we are in Iceland with our cameras we should feel comfortable exploring the iconic locations, however, we need to open our minds and see the vast array of alternatives.
© Paul Gallagher